CS267: Lecture 17, Mar 12 1996

Solving the Discrete Poisson Equation using Multigrid

Table of Contents

  • Solving the Discrete Poisson Equation using Multigrid
  • Introduction
  • Overview of Multigrid
  • Multigrid V-Cycle
  • Full Multigrid
  • Detailed Description of Multigrid in 1D
  • The Solution Operator S(i)
  • The Restriction Operator R(i)
  • The Interpolation Operator In(i-1)
  • Convergence Examples of Multigrid
  • Parallelizing Multigrid
  • Comparing Parallel Methods for the Discrete Poisson Equation
  • Solving the Discrete Poisson Equation using Multigrid


    Multigrid is a divide-and-conquer algorithm for solving the discrete Poisson equation. It is widely used on other similar ("elliptic") partial differential equations as well. It uses divide-and-conquer in two related senses. First, it obtains an initial solution for an n-by-n grid by using an (n/2)-by-(n/2) grid as an approximation, taking every other grid point from the n-by-n grid. The coarser (n/2)-by-(n/2) grid is in turn approximated by an (n/4)-by-(n/4) grid, and so on recursively.

    This idea of using a coarse approximation of a problem to approximate its solution, (and recursively using a yet coarser approximation of the coarse problem) is used in a variety of fast algorithms; we will see it again when we discuss graph partitioning.

    The second way Multigrid uses divide-and-conquer is in the frequency domain. This requires us to think of the error as a sum of sine-curves of difference frequencies. Then the work we do on a particular grid will eliminate the error in half of the frequency components not eliminated on other grids. In particular, the work performed on a particular grid -- averaging the solution at each grid point with its neighbors, a variation of Jacobi -- makes the solution smoother, which is equivalent to getting rid of the high frequency error. We will illustrate these notions further below.

    For a more detailed mathematical introduction to the multigrid algorithm, see "A Multigrid Tutorial" by W. Briggs, SIAM, 1987. For a matlab implementation of multigrid click here.

    Overview of Multigrid

    We begin by stating the algorithm at a high level, and then fill in details. It turns out to be convenient to consider an (2^m-1)-by-(2^m-1) grid of unknowns, rather than the 2^m-by-2^m grid favored by the FFT. We add the nodes at the boundary, which have the given value 0, to get a (2^m+1)-by-(2^m+1) grid on which the algorithm will operate. We let n=2^m+1. These grids are shown below.

    We let P(i) denote the problem of solving a discrete Poisson equation on a (2^i+1)-by-(2^i+1) grid, with (2^i-1)^2 unknowns. The problem is specified by the grid size i, the coefficient matrix T(i), and the right hand side b(i). We will generate a sequence of related problems P(m), P(m-1), P(m-2), ... , P(1) on coarser and coarser grids, where the solution to P(i-1) is a good approximation to the solution of P(i).

    We will let b(i) be the right-hand-side of the linear system P(i). We will let x(i) denote an approximate solution to P(i). Thus, x(i) and b(i) are (2^i-1)-by-(2^i-1) arrays of values at each grid point. To explain how the algorithm works, we need some operators which take a problem on one grid, and either improve it or transform it to a related problem on another grid:

  • The restriction operator R(i) takes a pair (b(i),x(i)), consisting of a problem P(i) (which is determined by its right-hand-side b(i)) and its approximate solution x(i), and maps it to (b(i-1),x(i-1)), which is a simpler problem on the next coarser grid, with starting guess x(i-1):
           ( b(i-1), x(i-1) ) = R(i)( b(i), x(i) )
    We will see that restriction is implemented simply by computing a weighted average of each grid point value with its nearest neighbors.
  • The interpolation operator In(i-1) takes an approximate solution x(i-1) for P(i-1) and converts it to an approximation x(i) for the problem P(i) on the next finer grid:
          ( b(i), x(i) ) = In(i-1)( b(i-1), x(i-1) )
    Its implementation also requires just a weighted average with nearest neighbors.
  • The solution operator S(i) take a problem P(i) and approximate solution x(i), and computes an improved x(i).
          x_improved(i) = S(i)( b(i), x(i) )
    The improvement is to damp the "high frequency components" of the error. We will explain what this means below. It is also implemented by averaging with nearest neighbors, and is a variation of Jacobi's method.
  • Multigrid V-Cycle

    This is enough to state the basic algorithm, the Multigrid V-cycle (MGV).

      function MGV( b(i), x(i) )       ... return an improved 
                                       ... solution x(i) to P(i)
        if i = 1                       ... only one unknown
           compute the exact solution x(1) of P(1)
           return ( b(1), x(1) )
           x(i) = S(i)( b(i), x(i) )  ... improve the solution
           ( b(i), d(i) ) = In(i-1)( MGV( R(i)( b(i), x(i) ) ) )  
                                      ... solve recursively
           x(i) = x(i) - d(i)         ... correct fine grid solution
           x(i) = S(i)( b(i), x(i) )  ... improve solution some more
           return ( b(i), x(i) )
    In words, the algorithm does the following:
  • Start with a problem on a fine grid ( b(i), x(i) ).
  • Improve it by damping the high frequency error x(i) = S(i)( b(i), x(i) ).
  • Approximate the error in the fine grid problem ( b(i), x(i) ) with a problem on the next coarser grid
                 R(i)( b(i), x(i) ).
  • Solve the coarser problem recursively
                 MGV( R(i)( b(i), x(i) ) ).
  • Map the coarse solution back to the fine grid
                 In(i-1)( MGV( R(i)( b(i), x(i) ) ) ).
  • Subtract the correction computed on the coarse grid from the fine grid solution
                 x(i) = x(i) - d(i)
  • Improve the solution some more x(i) = S(i)( b(i), x(i) ).
  • The algorithm is called a V-cycle, because if we draw it schematically in (grid number i, time) space, with a point for each recursive call to MGV, it looks like the figure below, starting with a call to MGV( P(5), x(5) ), in the upper left corner. This calls MGV on grid 4, then 3, and so on down to the coarsest grid 1, and then back up to grid 5 again.

    We now know enough to get a big-Oh complexity analysis for the algorithm. On a serial machine, the work at each point in the algorithm is proportional to the number of unknowns, since the value at each grid point is just averaged with its nearest neighbors. Thus, each point at grid level i on the "V" in the V-cycle will cost (2^i-1)^2 = O(4^i) operations. If the finest grid is at level m, the total serial work will be given by the geometric sum

           sum_{i=1}^m O( 4^i ) = O( 4^m ) = O( # unknowns )
    So the total serial work is proportional to the number of unknowns.

    On a PRAM, we could compute all the nearest neighbor averages required at each grid point in unit time, with one processor per grid point. Thus, the time required on a PRAM is just proportional to the number of dots on the V in the V-cycle, namely O(m) = O( log #unknowns ).

    Full Multigrid

    The ultimate Multigrid algorithm uses the Multigrid V-cycle just described as a building block. It is called Full Multigrid (FMG):

       function FMG( b(m), x(m) )
         compute the exact solution x(1) of P(1)
         for i= 2 to m
             ( b(i), x(i) ) = MGV( In(i-1)( b(i-1), x(i-1) ) )
         end for
    In words, the algorithm does the following:
  • Solve the simplest problem P(1) exactly.
  • Given a solution x(i-1) of the coarse problem P(i-1), map it to a starting guess x(i) for the next finer problem P(i):
             In(i-1)( b(i-1), x(i-1) ).
  • Solve the finer problem using the Multigrid V-cycle with this starting guess:
             MGV( In(i-1)( b(i-1), x(i-1) ) )
  • Now we can do the overall Big-Oh complexity analysis. The picture in (grid number i, time) space is:

    There is one V in this picture for each call to MGV in the inner loop of FMG. On a serial machine, the V starting at level i costs O(4^i), as before. Thus the total serial cost is given by the geometric sum.

          sum_{i=1}^m O( 4^i ) = O( 4^m ) = O( # unknowns )
    The cost on a PRAM is also the sum of the costs of each V:
          sum_{i=1}^m O( i ) = O( m^2 ) = O( (log # unknowns)^2 )
    This completes the serial and PRAM complexity analyses of Multigrid: the serial complexity is optimal, in the sense that a constant amount of work per unknown is performed. The PRAM complexity is the square of the optimal (which was attained by the FFT), namely O( log( # unknowns )^2 ) instead of O( log( # unknowns ) ). After explaining the operators R(i-1), In(i) and S(i) in more detail, we will do a more complete complexity analysis taking communication into account.

    Detailed Description of Multigrid in 1D

    To make the exposition and figures simpler, we will use 1D problems to explain the details of the algorithm. Thus, P(i), as shown below, will be a problem on a 1D grid of 2^i+1 points, with the middle 2^i-1 being the unknowns.

    We will let T(i) be the coefficient matrix of problem P(i), that is a scaled (2^i-1)-by-(2^i-1) tridiagonal matrix with 2s on the diagonal and -1s on the off-diagonal. The scale factor 4^(-i) is the 1/h^2 term that shows up because T(i) is approximating a second derivative on a grid with grid spacing h=2^(-i).

                         [  2  -1                 ] 
                         [ -1   2  -1             ]
         T(i) = 4^(-i) * [     -1   2  -1         ]
                         [       ... ... ...      ]
                         [             -1  2  -1  ]
                         [                -1   2  ]
    To understand why Multigrid works so well, we need to think of the solution vector, and the error in the solution, as linear combinations of certain basis vectors, which are essentially sine-curves of different frequencies, the way one does in Fourier analysis. This same idea underlay the use of the FFT in solving this problem. As with the FFT, these sine-curves are in fact the eigenvectors of the T(i) matrix above. The following figure shows some of these sine-curves when i=5, so T(5) is 31-by-31. The top plot is a plot of the eigenvalues (frequencies) of 4^5*T(5), from lowest to highest. The subsequent plots are the eigenvectors (sine-curves), starting with the lowest 4 frequencies, and then a few more frequencies up to the highest (number 31).

    If we let v(j) be the j-th eigenvector of T(i), and V the eigenvector matrix V=[v(1),v(2),...] whose j-th column is v(j), then as described before V is an orthogonal matrix. Any vector x can be written as a linear combination of the v(j). Here is how:

          x = sum_{j=1}^{2^i-1} alpha(j)*v(j) = V*alpha
    where alpha = [alpha(1), alpha(2), ...]' is a column vector of coefficients. Writing
          x = I*x = (V*V')*x = V*(V'*x) = V*alpha
    we see that alpha(j) = v(j)'*x. We call alpha(j) the j-th frequency component of x, ranging from alpha(1) (the lowest frequency component) to alpha(2^i-1) (the highest frequency component).

    Using this terminology, we can describe Multigrid as follows. What Multigrid does on the finest grid P(m), is to damp down the upper half of the frequency components of the error in the solution. This is accomplished by the solution operator S(i), as we show below. On the next coarser grid, with half as many points, Multigrid damps the upper half of the remaining frequency components in the error. On the next coarser grid, the upper half of the remaining frequency components are damped, and so on, until we solve the exact (1 unknown) problem P(1). This is shown schematically below:

    The Solution Operator S(i)

    We begin by showing how the solution operation S(i) damps the upper half of the frequencies. S(i) can be described as "weighted Jacobi". Pure Jacobi would replace the j-th component of the approximate solution x(i) by the weighted average:

     improved x(i)(j) 
             = .5*( x(i)(j-1) + x(i)(j+1) + 4^i * b(i)(j) )
             = x(i)(j) + .5*( x(i)(j-1) - 2*x(i)(j) + 
                              x(i)(j+1) + 4^i * b(i)(j) )
    Weighted Jacobi instead uses
     improved x(i)(j) = x(i)(j) + 
         w*.5*( x(i)(j-1) - 2*x(i)(j) + x(i)(j+1) + 4^i * b(i)(j) )
    where w is a weight. We will choose w to damp the highest frequencies; w=2/3 turns out to be the right value, leading to the following definition of S(i):
     improved x(i)(j) = 
        (1/3)*( x(i)(j-1) + x(i)(j) + x(i)(j+1) + 4^i * b(i)(j) )
    Here are some pictures to illustrate S(i). We take i=6, so there are 2^6-1=63 unknowns. There are 6 rows of pictures, the first row showing the initial solution and error, and the following 5 rows showing the solution and error after successive applications of S(i). The true solution is a sine curve, shown as a dotted line in the leftmost plot in each row. The approximate solution is a solid line in the same plot. The middle plot shows the error alone, including its norm in the title at the top. The rightmost plot shows the frequency components of the error (V'*error). One can see in the rightmost plots that as S(i) is applied, the right (upper) half of the frequency components are damped out. This can also be seen in the middle and left plots, because the approximate solution grows smoother. This is because high frequency error looks like "rough" error, and low frequency error looks like "smooth" error. Initially, the norm of the vector decreases rapidly, from 1.78 to 1.11, but then decays more gradually, because there is little more error in the high frequencies to damp. Thus, it only makes sense to do 1 or perhaps 2 iterations of S(i) at a time.

    For a more mathematical discussion of how weighted Jacobi damps the high frequencies, click here.

    In 2D, S(i) requires each grid point be replaced by a similar weighted average of its 4 neighboring values in the grid.

    The Restriction Operator R(i)

    Now we turn to the restriction operator R(i), which takes a problem P(i) with right-hand-side b(i), and an approximate solution x(i), and maps it to a simpler problem P(i-1) with right-hand-side b(i-1) and approximate solution x(i-1). The basic idea is as follows. Let r(i) be the residual of the approximate solution x(i):

          r(i) = T(i)*x(i) - b(i)
    If x(i) were the exact solution, r(i) would be zero. If we could solve the equation
           T(i) * d(i) = r(i)
    exactly for the correction d(i), then x(i)-d(i) would be the solution we seek, because
           T(i) * ( x(i)-d(i) ) = T(i)*x(i) - T(i)*d(i)
                                = (r(i) + b(i)) - (r(i))
                                = b(i)
    Thus, to apply R(i) to ( b(i), x(i) ) and get P(i-1), we will
    1. compute the residual r(i) (a nearest neighbor operation),
    2. restrict it to the next coarser grid to get b(i-1) = r(i-1), and
    3. let the initial guess x(i-1) be all zeros.
    Thus, P(i-1) will be the problem of solving T(i-1)*d(i-1) = r(i-1), for the correction d(i-1), starting with the initial guess x(i-1) of all zeros. The restriction will be accomplished by averaging with nearest neighbors of r(i) on the fine grid (with 2^i-1 unknowns) to get an approximation on the coarse grid (with 2^(i-1)-1 unknowns): The value at a coarse grid point is .5 times the value at the corresponding fine grid point, plus .25 times each of the fine grid point neighbors.

    In 2D, R(i) requires averaging with up to 8 nearest neighbors (in the N, S, E, W, NW, SW, SE and NE compass directions).

    The Interpolation Operator In(i-1)

    Finally, the interpolation operator In(i-1) takes the solution of the residual equation T(i-1)*x(i-1) = r(i-1), and uses it to correct the fine grid approximation x(i) as described above. The solution x(i-1) is interpolated to the finer grid as shown below:

    In 2D, interpolation requires averaging with up to 4 nearest neighbors (NW, SW, SE and NE).

    Convergence Examples of Multigrid

    We close with some pictures of Multigrid working on a 1D problem, and then a 2D problem. The next graph is the right hand side and true solution for a 1D problem with 127=2^7-1 unknowns.

    The next graphs summarize the convergence of Multigrid in two ways. The graph on the right shows the residual residual(k) = norm(T(i)x(i)-b(i)) after k iterations of Full Multigrid (FMG). The graph on the left shows the ratio of consecutive residuals, showing how the error (residual) is decreased by a factor bounded away from 1 at each step (for less smooth solutions, the residual will tend to decrease by a factor closer to .5 at each step.)

    Finally, the following graph shows the error at each grid point in all iterations, with consecutive iterations plotted in different colors to distinguish them. We can see that eventually the errors change by a constant decrement on this semilog plot, which means they decrease by a constant factor. Also, we see that the error becomes much smoother as we continue to iterate.

    The following is a small 2D illustration. The first two graphs are the true solution and right hand side, and the next two plots shows the residuals as above.

    Parallelizing Multigrid

    Now we will do a more careful parallel complexity analysis of 2D Multigrid, including communication costs. As described above, multigrid requires each grid point to be updated depending on as many as 8 neighbors (those to the N, E, S, W, NW, SW, SE and NE). This will determine our communication costs.

    We assume we have an n=(2^m+1)-by-n grid of data, and that p=s^2 is a perfect square. The data is laid out on an s-by-s grid of processors, with each processor owning an ((n-1)/s)-by-((n-1)/s) subgrid. This is illustrated in the following diagram by the pink dotted line, which encircles the grid points owned by the corresponding processor. The grid points in the top processor row have been labeled (and color coded) by the grid number i of the problem P(i) in which they participate. There is exactly one point labeled 2 per processor. The only grid point in P(1) with a nonboundary value is owned by the processor above the pink one. In general, if p>=16, there will be .5*log_2(p)-1 grids P(i) in which fewer than all processor own participating grid points.

    The processor indicated by the pink dotted line requires certain grid point data from its neighbors to execute the algorithm; this data has been indicated by the same color coded numbers as before. For example, to update its own (blue) grid points for P(5), the pink processor requires 8 blue grid point values from its N, S, E, and W neighbors, as well as single blue grid point values from its NW, SW, SE and NE neighbors. Similarly, updating the (red) grid points for P(4) requires 4 red grid point values from the N, W, E and W neighbors, and one each from the NW, SW, SE and NE neighbors. This pattern continues until each processor has only one grid point. After this, only some processors participate in the computation, requiring one value each from 8 other processors. This is enough to do a big-Oh analysis of the communication costs. For simplicity, let p=4^k=2^(2*k), so each processor owns a 2^(m-k)-by-2^(m-k) subgrid. Consider a V-cycle starting at level m. Then in levels m through k of the V-cycle, each processor will own at least one grid point. After that, in levels k-1 through 1, fewer than all processors will own an active grid point, and so some processors will remain idle. Let f be the time per flop, alpha the time for a message startup, and beta the time per word to send a message.

    At level m >= i >= k, the time in the V-cycle will be

     Time at level i = O( 4^(i-k) ) * f     
                           ... number of flops, proportional to the
                           ... number of grid points per processor
                     + O( 1 ) * alpha       
                           ... send a constant number of messages
                           ... to neighbors
                     + O( 2^(i-k) ) * beta  
                           ... number of words sent
    Summing all these terms from i=k to m yields
      Time at levels k to m = O( 4^(m-k) )*f + 
                              O( m-k )*alpha + 
                              O( 2^(m-k) )*beta
                            = O( n^2/p )*f + 
                              O( log(n/p) )*alpha + 
                              O( n/sqrt(p) )*beta
    Note that there is a "surface-to-volume effect" when i>>k, with each processor communicating just its boundary data and computing with the many more grid points that it owns. We have seen this attractive phenomenon before in particle simulations, where it also meant that computation time was likely to dominate communication time.

    On levels k >= i >= 1, this effect disappears, because each processor needs to communicate about as many words as it does floating point operations:

     Time at level i = O( 1 ) * f           
                          ... number of flops, proportional to the
                          ... number of grid points per processor
                     + O( 1 ) * alpha       
                          ... send a constant number of messages
                          ... to neighbors
                     + O( 1 ) * beta        
                          ... number of words sent
    Summing all these terms yields
      Time at levels 1 to k-1 = O( k-1 )*f + 
                                O( k-1 )*alpha + 
                                O( k-1 )*beta
                              = O( log(p) )*f + 
                                O( log(p) )*alpha + 
                                O( log(p) )*beta
    The total time for a V-cycle starting at the finest level is therefore
      Time = O( n^2/p + log(p) )*f + 
             O( log(n) )*alpha + 
             O( n/sqrt(p) + log(p) )*beta
    Similarly, the total time for a V-cycle starting at level j, k <= j <= m, is
      Time(j) = O( 4^j/p + log(p) )*f + 
                O( j )*alpha + 
                O( 2^j/sqrt(p) + log(p) )*beta
    The total time for a V-cycle starting at level j < k is
      Time(j) = O( j )*f + 
                O( j )*alpha + 
                O( j )*beta
    Therefore, the total time for Full Multigrid, assuming n^2 >= p, so that each processor has at least 1 grid point, is
      Time = sum_{j=1}^m Time(j)
           = O( n^2/p + log(p)*log(n) )*f + 
             O( (log(n))^2 )*alpha + 
             O( n/sqrt(p) + log(p)*log(n) )*beta
           = O( N/p + log(p)*log(N) )*f + 
             O( (log(N))^2 )*alpha + 
             O( sqrt(N/p) + log(p)*log(N) )*beta
    where N=n^2 is the number of unknowns. Thus we see that the speedup of the serial floating point work O(N), is nearly perfect, O( N/p + log(p)*log(N) ), when N>>p, but reduces to log(N)^2 when p=N (the PRAM model).

    In practice, the time spent on the coarsest grids, when each processor has one or zero active grid points, while negligible on a serial machine, is significant on a parallel machine, enough so to make the efficiency noticeably lower. For example, in the paper "Analysis of the Multigrid FMV Cycle on large scale parallel machines", R. Tuminaro and D. Womble, SIAM J. Sci. Comp. v. 14, n. 5, 1993, the authors consider several variations of multigrid on a 1024 processor nCUBE2. This machine has a relatively low latency and high bandwidth compared to its floating point speed. On a 64-by-64 grid of unknowns, where there are only 4 unknowns per processor on the finest grid, (this is quite small for such a large machine!), the efficiency of a V-cycle alone was .02, and for Full Multigrid it was .008. In this case, most of the time some processors are idle. For a 1024-by-1024 grid, with 1024 unknowns per processor, the efficiencies were .7 and .42, respectively, which are quite reasonable, though Full Multigrid is noticeably less efficient. Still, it is 2.6 times faster than V-cycles alone for solving the problem. The authors explored variations on Full Multigrid, where they did varying numbers of calls to MGV (a V-cycle) within the loop of FMG, using estimates of convergence rate and parallel efficiencies to pick the optimal number of MGV calls; they were able to increase the efficiencies to .01 and .47, respectively. For the 1024-by-1024 grid, either efficiency (.42 or .47) is quite reasonable.

    Comparing Parallel Methods for the Discrete Poisson Equation

    We will compare
  • SOR (Successive OverRelaxation with the optimal factor w_opt),
  • FFT (Fast Fourier Transform), and
  • Multigrid
  • for solving the discrete Poisson equation on an n-by-n grid of N=n^2 unknowns. We will not worry about the fact that the FFT prefers that n=2^m, and that Multigrid prefers that n=2^m-1; these differences will be absorbed by the big-Oh notation, which is implicit in the table below. We will assume our machine has p processors, that a floating point operation costs f seconds, and that sending a message of k words costs alpha+k*beta seconds.
                # flops        # messages   # words sent
    SOR         N^(3/2)/p      N^(1/2)      N/p
    FFT         N*log(N)/p     p^(1/2)      N/p
    Multigrid   N/p +          (log(N))^2   (N/p)^(1/2) +
                log(p)*log(N)               log(p)*log(N)

    SOR is slower than the other two methods on all counts. It is hard to say whether the number of flops for FFT or Multigrid is smaller, because the number of Full Multigrid iterations depends on how much accuracy is desired, whereas the FFT only delivers full accuracy. Multigrid sends clearly fewer words than the FFT or SOR.

    However, it is not clear whether the FFT or Multigrid sends fewer messages. The number of messages is a much more slowly growing function of N than either the number of flops or the number of words sent, and for large enough N it will be overwhelmed by these terms. But if the cost per message, alpha, is large enough, and p is small, it is not clear whether the FFT or Multigrid is faster; this big-Oh analysis is not sufficient to distinguish them, and the answer will depend on details of the machine and implementation.